‘Please sir, can I have some more?’ The pilot has explained his attitude to food goes back to boarding school where you had to eat as quickly and as much as possible before someone took it from you. I really enjoy cooking for him and the kids, but I’m relaxed about it (always adhered to the ‘approach love and cooking with reckless abandon’ school of thought). My Mum is an incredible cordon bleu chef, and mealtimes at home always involved sauces, several courses. I feel like a bit of a peasant in comparison. Cooking, providing for your family is all about love and emotion. Watching Ugly Betty chopping vegetables last night reminded me of that brilliant Wendy Cope poem: ‘Decapitating onions, she made this mental note: You know it’s love, the real thing, when you dream of slitting his throat’. Cooking together, chatting over a glass of wine – there are few simpler, better pleasures.
Have you had the experience yet where you are in a supermarket and one of the kids said in their Special Very Loud Voice: ‘Mummy why is that man so fat?’ We’ve never used the F word, never pointed out differences but children have an instinct and innocent curiosity about why people are the way they are. I’ve tried to be very non-judgemental in shaping their opinions about things – there’s plenty of time for them to make up their own minds. (This afternoon we broached the whole ‘Mummy, can a man marry a man?’ Yes darling. People can love one another whoever they are, and everybody’s family is different. ‘But they can’t (giggle) make a baby?!’ Food seems easy in comparison to modern genetic advances. I was always careful to say certain food choices are healthy, and other things are treats to have in moderation rather than ‘they are bad and will make you fat’. Thanks to Mr Olympics himself, Sportacus on Lazy Town, fruit is now ‘sports candy’. However kids tend to call a spade a spade. I overheard the six year old telling the two year old today: ‘No more sweets or you will have a fat tummy!’ He happily wandered round at bathtime with his gorgeous little tummy pushed out going ‘Fat Belly! Fat Belly!’
The latest comic to jump on the fat is funny bandwagon is Ricky Gervais. They’ve been running his trailer over the last few nights. From Mr Creosote and his ‘waffer thin meent’ to Gwynnie in her fat suit in Shallow Hal, fat is (apparently) funny. Culturally, thin is good – but it hasn’t always been so, and fashions change. A recent survey claimed that the ideal woman is getting fatter. If you read the article to the end you would see that while some men found size 16 women attractive, the majority still like a size 12. Plus ca change. Maybe because unlike all the other deadly sins, Gluttony is so obvious and the results so apparent we feel able to take a pop (‘Does my bum look big in this? Etc). There is something ghastly and depressing about places like the Calais hypermarkets – slack jawed day tourists pushing trolleys groaning with cheap booze, fags and token pack of crisps and biscuits. There is just so much of everything – do we need it? Any obsession with food is damaging – at school, a friend fighting anorexia went on (tragically) to study nutrition at university. At school now, there are lovely mothers still clearly battling their demons, but almost without exception every anorexic or bulimic mum I’ve met compensates by being a terrific homemaker or cook, always volunteering for the bakesale or serving cream cakes for tea.
Food is very deeply hardwired into our sense of selves and well being. I am so used now to making the most of what we have to hand, going through the old photos the other day was like looking at another lifetime, let alone a couple of decades ago. ‘Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci …’ we sang along to Chic and Sister Sledge. Sushi in Tokyo? Lobster in Maine? Paella cooked over orange wood fires with shrimp and langoustine fresh from the morning market? These days it is Cottage Pie in Hampshire and be grateful. Food is love – what’s your favourite meal from growing up? Bet nobody makes it like your Mum used to. From the roast dinners of home to the champagne and oysters of seduction (wasn’t it Levi who said ‘to eat is to f***’), what you eat, and how much you eat defines a lot about you. Temperance, moderation is difficult when there is so much on offer everywhere you turn. The TV schedule and bookshelves are groaning with celebrity chefs. Every other advert provokes your tastebuds (maybe Levi had been watching the ludicrous soft porn M&S ads for chocolate pudding). Writing and parenting is a double whammy – constant proximity to the kitchen, snacks, one meal after another. Sure we all know – eat less, move more. So why is everyone getting bigger?
TODAY’S PROMPT: My favourite cookbook ‘Aprhodite’ by Isabel Allende has an anecdote about every recipe. What are the key dishes in your house? We have the pilot’s bouillabaisse, and my chicken claybake as the ‘warms your heart soul food’ staples. Tonight there’s the scent of beef stew mingling with woodsmoke when he gets home from a late flight (writing about food sees me having a fleeting domestic goddess moment - it won't last). What great food stories can you think of in literature – I re-read last night where Rebecca Miller’s Pippa Lee eulogises about Vacherin cheese (and knew we would get on like a house on fire because of it). Then there is Proust and his madelines. Why not grab your journal, and reminisce about what certain meals or certain food means to you. Or you could get the parents at school together and write a charity cookbook – each child providing a recipe and drawing, profits going to a good cause.